Wednesday, January 2, 2013

A View from Kahlenberg

Cambridge, January 2, 2013

It's September of 1683 and Vienna has been under Ottoman siege for most of the summer.  In a few days, the winged hussars of Polish King Jan Sobieski will end Turkish ambitions over Vienna, a 150-year dream that began with Suleiman the Magnificent's first siege in 1529.  The Flemish painter Frans Geffels shows the city from Kahlenberg, one of the hills in the Vienna Woods, as Sobieski's troops descend towards the forces of Kara Mustafa Pasha, the Grand Visier of Sultan Mehmed IV.  Vienna appears in the distance, as an almost perfect circle surrounded by heavy fortifications of angular bastions. In the middle, slightly off center, is Saint Stephen's Cathedral. In front of the walls are the Turkish encampments.  The Danube River flows behind the city, towards the horizon.

Not far beyond the frame of the painting (to the right) and about two centuries later (after the night of June 23, 1895 to be precise) Sigmund Freud is trying to make sense of another dream.  He is at the Schloss Bellevue, atop of another elevation in the Wienerwald.  His interpretation of "Irma's Injection", as the dream is known, gives him the initial impulse to begin writing the legendary Traumdeutung (The Interpretation of Dreams.)  Freud sees a very different city, the fortifications replaced by the newly built Ringstrasse, with its wide tree-lined avenues, imposing residential palaces and monumental buildings.  Five years later, in a letter to his friend and colleague Wilhelm Fliess, Freud rhapsodizes about this spot in Bellevue overlooking Vienna as the foundational place of psychoanalysis.

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